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To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Vegetarian Week


Created by the Vegetarian Society and celebrated since 1992, the Week gives organisations, schools, community groups and individuals the free promotional tools and inspiration to give vegetarianism a go.

As National Vegetarian Week is well on the way, a new study shows links between eating processed and red meat and an increased risk of bowel cancer. Will you still be bringing home the bacon?


The statistics on eating red meat are pretty sobering. The consumption of an extra 100g of cooked red meat a day above the recommended 500g of cooked red meat a week leads to a 17% increase in the risk of bowel cancer, that's roughly from five in 100 to six. An extra 100g of processed meat a day results in a rise in the risk of bowel cancers of 36%; roughly five in 100 to seven.

There are a bunch of things to be said about this, not least that this extra 100g a day amounts to more than a doubling of the recommended amount of 70g. If recent reports have their sums right it means 170g of cooked red meat a day, which is 1190g or over 2.5lbs of red meat a week. This is an awful lot of meat. Add in a similar amount of processed meats – bacon, sausages, salamis and hams – and it's a dead animal fiesta.

But using that as a reason to dismiss the stats would be a false comfort. There is clearly a correlation between meat consumption and bowel cancer. So, putting aside the other serious issues – the environmental impact of meat production, the unreliability of animal welfare – is it time we changed our diet?

And we are left bewildered. Which bits of our lifestyle will kill us and which bits of it will save our life? Surely no single piece of dietary advice can be taken in isolation? Because if you listened to each and every bit of advice on healthy living you would quickly assume we were eating our way to an early grave. And yet that's not true. For here is another statistic, one which rarely referred to. Our life expectancy is going up, not down.

According to the Office For National Statistics the age at which we will die has risen from around 71 for men and 76 for women in 1980, to nearly 78 for men and 82 for women now. Of course that may mean we end up living with illness and infirmity for longer but the bald fact is this: modern life isn't killing us. It's helping us to live on.

So does that mean we can keep frying up the bacon? I'm really not sure. It is very very hard to take these issues seriously when you are well. If you have developed bowel cancer, or have lost a loved one to it – 36,000 Britons develop the disease every year and over 16,000 die from it – then making a decision is probably much easier. For the rest of us it's not so cut and dried.

I will, of course, try to be a better person. I will try to eat a more balanced diet. Then again I am always trying to do this, and that's not the same as succeeding.

“So what are you going to do? Cut out the pig or carry on as usual”? Asks Greengates Builders Merchants Accrington, Lancashire.